When deciding to leave a job, the expectation of receiving unemployment insurance benefits understandably plays a large role in an employee’s thought process. While many employees understand their rights regarding these benefits, we have found that there remains a great deal of confusion which, if not clarified, can lead to the unpleasant surprise of lost unemployment benefits.
Who is Eligible?
The starting point is to understand that employees who quit or voluntarily leave work are not eligible to receive unemployment insurance. Of course, if an employee is forced to quit – resulting in either a resignation in lieu of discharge, or a constructive discharge – the employee remains entitled to benefits. But voluntarily terminating one’s employment disqualifies an employee from receiving unemployment insurance benefits. Not surprisingly, therefore, many unemployment benefits case decisions turn on the issue of whether the employee voluntarily quit or was forced to quit.
When deciding whether to quit a job, then, the best decision for purposes of unemployment benefits is to continue working until they fire you. Of course, other considerations may come into play – such as prolonged harassment, a hostile work environment or unsafe work conditions, or simply quality of life. If you are struggling with the decision of whether to quit your job and would like to know how to weigh these various factors and the impact they should have on your decision, contact Luchansky Law so we can use our experience to help guide you through the process.
Appealing Unemployment Insurance
“I worked at my company long enough and have earned the minimum requirements to be eligible for unemployment insurance, so why am I being denied benefits? And what can I do about it?”
Many employees are caught off guard when they receive a notice in the mail from the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (the “DLLR”) scheduling a telephone hearing to discuss their benefit eligibility. Some employees are surprised to learn that employers may challenge a former employee’s right to unemployment benefits on non-economic grounds. Others are aware that employers may contest a claim for benefits, but they are not clear what the grounds for disqualification are. Those grounds include but are not limited to: a claim that the employee voluntarily quit, or a claim that the employee engaged in misconduct, or the failure of the employee to look for new work. We will discuss each of these reasons for disqualification in posts to follow.
Employees must realize, however, that it is just as important to be familiar with the unemployment appeal procedure as it is to know the reasons why you can be disqualified from receiving benefits. Many employees simply are not prepared during the initial phone hearing and are denied unemployment insurance benefits. Then they figure that they will go to the hearing held at the next level without an attorney, thinking that they always can get an attorney to challenge the decision later, if it does not go in the employee’s favor. These mistakes often result in the loss of benefits in cases where knowing the appeal process would have enabled an employee to prevail.
The Unemployment Insurance Appeal Process – A Crucial Overview
After initially filing for benefits, the first stage of the unemployment insurance process involves a telephone interview conducted by a representative from the Unemployment Insurance Division of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (“DLLR”). DLLR conducts separate telephone interviews with the employee and with the employer, and it then renders an initial decision. If DLLR denies the employee’s request for benefits, the employee must appeal the denial within 15 days of the decision.
The appeal is a new hearing and is not bound by the findings made during the phone hearing. Even more importantly, the appeal is conducted in person at an Unemployment Insurance Division office and is held before a DLLR Hearing Examiner. Both employees and employers may introduce evidence and call witnesses during the appeal. All testimony is given under oath and is recorded.
The single, most significant mistake that employees make regarding these appeals is failing to realize that this is the ONLY opportunity for a face-to-face hearing that the employee will have. Any appeal from the decision of the Hearing Examiner will be conducted “on the record” – which means that the Hearing Examiner’s decision will be upheld unless a party can demonstrate a serious and prejudicial mistake. As a result, often employees and employers alike make the mistake of not hiring a lawyer to represent them during this appeal. Knowing what information is relevant, how to examine and cross-examine witnesses, and what legal arguments to make all are crucial to a successful appeal hearing. Most people don’t realize that the hearing involves all of these things, and decide to go it alone – a decision they often end up regretting.
Furthermore, many unemployment appeals involve employees and employers who are engaged in other lawsuits with each other, such as a suit for harassment or discrimination. It is important to realize that sworn testimony at the appeal hearing may be used by the parties to have damaging evidence or admissions introduced into evidence at a later trial. Employees who represent themselves, or employers that send a company representative untrained in the law, may have disastrous legal consequences.